After a sluggish start to the first half, a dominating second half guided the Jackrabbits to an 81-60 victory over Western Illinois, sending them into the semifinals of the Summit League Men’s Basketball Tournament where they will face Fort Wayne on Monday at 8:30 p.m.
The first half saw Western Illinois leading by as many as six points as they held the Jacks to 40 percent from the field and 20 percent from three-point range. In the early moments of the game, the Leathernecks also seemed to keep the SDSU offense out of the paint.
“We had a great week of practice but I cannot believe how tight we were in the first half,” head coach Scott Nagy said. “I don’t like to watch it. There’s no reason for us to be tight. We should be loose.”
After an early 3-2 lead, the Jacks did not lead again until the 5:07 mark in the first half when Marcus Heemstra hit a pair of free throws. Heemstra was the hero of the first half for SDSU, scoring 10 points off the bench in place of Cody Larson who got in early foul trouble.
“Marcus is tremendous,” Nagy said. We’ve talked about this all year - what a great guy he is. [He] does whatever we ask him to do, knows everything, [is the] smartest player I’ve ever coached, gives us energy, [and] gives us whatever we need. That guy is just a giver.”
The crowd also recognized Heemstra’s efforts and gave him several ovations throughout the game. Cheering much louder for the Jacks than the Leathernecks, the crowd was a factor that Western Illinois head coach Jim Molinari said made it difficult for his team of youngsters to keep pace down the stretch.
“That was men and boys,” Western Illinois head coach said. “That’s four seniors against three freshman and two new comers so that was the second half story. … This is a senior laden league and it’s going to take five seniors to win in that environment against them. You’re not going to do it with young players.”
SDSU outscored the Leathernecks 45-27 in the second half, the final stats showing domination in nearly phase of the game as SDSU garnered 10 more trips to the charity stripe in the second half and 15 more in the game. The Jacks also held a decisive edge in rebounds, 14, and points in the paint which they dominated 28-6. SDSU also scored 24 points off of turnovers.
Brayden Carlson led the Jacks in scoring with 13 points. Dysktra earned his second straight double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Rounding out the Jacks in double figures were Chad White and Heemstra who each scored 10 points. Jake Bittle did not score, but led the Jacks in assists and steals with four each.
For the Leathernecks, Garret Covington scored 14. His teammate Jabari Sandifer scored 13 and Michael Ochereobia had 10 points and a team high six rebounds.
SDSU has now won seven straight tournament games and their .750 winning percentage is the best in Summit League Tournament history. Going forward the Jacks will face a Fort Wayne team with whom they split the regular season series. Their last meeting was on Feb. 6 in Frost Arena, a game that the Jacks won 79-51.
Both teams have big guys inside who can pound the ball, and going into the matchup, one thing Nagy is concerned about is Fort Wayne’s depth. He cited how the points are spread out across their roster. The Mastodons have six players averaging more than eight points per game and eight players with more than six points per game.
“They’re a tough matchup,” Nagy said. “I haven’t looked at their stuff in a long time; we haven’t played them in a long time. … But they’re bringing a sixth-man of the year off the bench. They’re tough kids, well coached.”